Few college students take Louisiana’s sexual assault survey

So few college students are participating in Louisiana’s annual survey on issues of violence and sexual assault that the state’s top higher education board is suggesting the survey law should be changed.

Louisiana conducted its second campus climate survey on public colleges statewide, and the latest response rate — 3.5 percent — remains in the same low range as the previous year. The latest results were presented Wednesday to the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees the law’s efforts to improve the way public colleges handle sexual assaults.

“We have had serious problems with getting a good response rate,” Larry Tremblay, a Regents deputy commissioner, told board members.

A 2015 state law requires the campus climate survey. Participation, however, is voluntary for students. For both years of the survey, Regents staff warned that too few students participated to draw any conclusions or make generalizations about campus safety.

“The results presented in this report should only be interpreted as representative of the survey respondents, and cannot be generalized to the population of all students at an institution or Louisiana students as a whole,” the report says.

Regents staff suggested participation rates could increase and the surveys could be “more meaningful” if the law was changed to require the survey administration every three years. The Board of Regents adopted the report without objection, including the recommendations for change. Tremblay said the survey results being forwarded to lawmakers were “meaningless.”

“Unless and until changes are made to the act, the Regents staff is concerned that meaningful information will not be forthcoming in the campus climate survey,” he said.

The dismal participation rate is blamed on survey fatigue, the length of the survey and the sensitivity of the subject matter. To try to bolster responses without a law change, the Regents staff will use a different survey in the upcoming year, with fewer questions.

In the first year of the survey in 2015-16, about 5 percent of college students across the state’s campuses — 10,186 students — participated in the survey. For the latest 2016-17 survey, the survey had 7,541 responses, 3.5 percent of the student population.

The online survey was conducted during March and April, according to the report, containing more than 100 questions. Regents staff said the low participation rate is consistent with similar surveys around the country.

“National trends and the literature on the subject show that low participation rates in sexual assault surveys is common, due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, the stigma that victims perceive and the limitations of even carefully designed surveys to elicit clear responses on a nuanced subject,” the report says.

Of those who responded, 6.3 percent said they experienced “sexual contact without consent” since they enrolled in school.